FOR THE moment, it is business as usual. Today Andy Murray will play Facundo Arguello in the first round of the French Open. Unbeaten in ten matches on European clay, Murray is confident, his team is happy and everything is going according to plan.
But behind the scenes, everything is changing. This fortnight may turn out to be the last time the Scot and Amélie Mauresmo work together. The Frenchwoman is expecting her first child in August; by the time Wimbledon comes around, she will be just a handful of weeks away from her due date and if the doctors advise against it, she will not come to the media jamboree that is Wimbledon. Being a high-profile coach of a high-profile player is difficult enough at the best of times; trying to do that job when you are eight months pregnant and being photographed at every turn would be almost unbearable. As the coach of Andy Murray in SW19, she will not get a moment’s peace.
Then again, Mauresmo knows what it is like to live in the pressure cooker of her home Grand Slam. For years, she would come to Roland Garros as the great, home-grown hope but over the course of a 15-year career, her best results were two quarter-finals and three fourth rounds. She never found a way to handle the expectation.
Coming back as Murray’s mentor, Mauresmo has a chance to erase those painful memories and leave the French Open with her ambitions fulfilled. Together with Jonas Björkman, who will take over full-time coaching duties while Mauresmo is on maternity leave, she has turned the world No 3 into a serious contender at Roland Garros.
From the moment he left his training block in Barcelona and headed for the match courts last month, Murray has been a new man on the clay: aggressive, powerful, relaxed and, more importantly, unbeatable. “I think what has been important this year is that he has been healthy,” Mauresmo said of her charge.
“His body allowed him to work, and to work specifically for clay, the movement, the way of playing, and the little adjustments that you have to do for that surface. So that was one big thing that the team was great on, and then it’s a lot of work in Barcelona, as you know, before [the] Munich and Madrid [tournaments] to make those adjustments. Different things that we worked on and which I’m not really going to discuss here but, definitely, he really put in the amount of work and the time on the court that he needed to feel as good as possible on clay.”
“It’s really up to Amélie. It’s obviously a life‑changing thing having a child”Andy Murray
Murray is Mauresmo’s first long-term coaching project but no sooner had she settled into the role and started planning for the future than she discovered she was pregnant. Then, in February, Murray brought Björkman on board as cover for when Mauresmo was away on Fed Cup duty for France. But before he had put pen to contract for that role, he was being signed up for maternity cover for the second half of the season. The first five months of the season have been anything but settled.
“Jonas and I spent a couple of days in Barcelona together,” Mauresmo said. “We’re exchanging messages quite a lot, communicating quite a lot, whether it’s texting or calling, so that Jonas is not surprised or has an awareness of what has happened until then. We just started but things are going well so far.
“Andy is my first experience as a long-term coach so it has to be also my first experience with another coach in. It takes time to adjust but so far it’s going pretty well. The good thing is that we are both seeing the same things and both having a desire for Andy to improve in the same areas of his game, and I think that’s really key.
“If you’re going to work together and have different thoughts or different things that you want to prioritise, then it might be a bit difficult, but so far, for a few months now, we’ve talked about Andy and his game and I think we’re on the same page.”
The coaching partnership has certainly paid dividends in the past couple of months and it is one that Murray is keen to maintain. Unfortunately, he has no idea whether that will be possible once Mauresmo becomes a mum.
“The most important thing is for both of us to be quite open about everything over the next few months,” he said. “It’s really kind of up to Amélie. It’s obviously a life‑changing thing having a child. I think we just need to give it a bit of time and see how she feels afterwards and what her priorities are, and that’s it. But if things don’t work out, that’s fine; if they do, then great.
“But there is more to life obviously than tennis, and having a child is extremely important. I would imagine it would be her No 1 priority. But it’s possible that she can mix the two, and that’s why I think me working with Jonas will be very good as well. He’s a good addition to the team, and he’ll be able to travel, which is good.”
For the moment, though, life is ordered and straightforward: today Murray must deal with Arguello and, after that, the tournament will start to take shape. Mauresmo knows Roland Garros like the back of her hand and together with Björkman, she has shown Murray how to win on the red dirt. If this is to be Mauresmo’s swansong as the Scot’s coach, a run to the sharp end of the second week would be the perfect way to go out.